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AP Top 25 lays out path from 2018 college football season preview to 2019 NFL Draft

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It’s college football time!

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

College football season is here!

The first action of the year is in just three days though it’s nothing that will shake up the college football world. Still...Football!

So first, check out SB Nation’s College Football Preview. It is, as always, wonderful. And all the ancillary content propping it up is hugely necessary too. Bowl projections! The blue-chip ratio! Fake rivalry trophies! Yes, it’s great.

But, it’s a college football preview. For college football fans. For NFL fans and specifically Los Angeles Rams fans, it’s tangential to the pathway to the 2019 NFL Draft. And maybe the thing best suited to tie both ends together is the initial AP rankings. No, it’s not perfect. But it blends talent (again, that blue-chip ratio piece is worth your time), coaching and predicted performance as well as we can right now.

So let’s look at the college football season setup and what it might mean for next spring:

#1.) Alabama Crimson Tide

Biggest storyline heading into season: decision between QB Jalen Hurts and QB Tua Tagovailoa
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: LT Jonah Williams
3k’s prospect for the Rams: LB Anfernee Jennings

Oh Bama. Must you always? (The answer is yes.)

Of course Bama’s back. Of course they’re loaded. Of course they’re going to annoy us all year. But if you want to skip next Saturday’s game against the Louisville Cardinals, check back in in November when their schedule gets good.

#2.) Clemson Tigers

Biggest storyline heading into season: Whether or not the offense can support the defense
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: Your favorite D-lineman of choice
3k’s prospect for the Rams: OT Mitch Hyatt

The QB battle here I find waaaaaay more interesting than the one in Tuscaloosa. Here, you’ve got veteran QB Kelly Bryant who has a game much like former Ohio State Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett. He’s a solid game manager who can create on the move, but he’s not an exceptional talent. How long is Head Coach Dabo Swinney going to stick with him even with freshman QB Trevor Lawrence looking like he was crafted at some app at NFL.com?

The good thing for Clemson and that decision is that they have one of the easiest schedules in the country. Could they be headed for another mid-playoff game switch just like Hurts and Tagovailoa in the National Championship last year?

#3.) Georgia Bulldogs

Biggest storyline heading into season: Dealing with expectations
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: CB Deandre Baker
3k’s prospect for the Rams: OLB D’Andre Walker

Maybe the most entertaining team in the country as of right now. They’re dealing with a ton of turnover, but Head Coach Kirby Smart has helped Georgia recruit as well as anyone the last few years and are looking at the same in 2019. If I were betting on who will win the National Championship, I wouldn’t bet on Georgia. They’re relying on too much youth and the youth they’re playing on the O-line worries me.

But I wouldn’t bet against them either.

As always, there’s talent at RB. D’Andre Swift is one of the best in the country. The real question mark is the secondary.

#4.) Wisconsin Badgers

Biggest storyline heading into season: Highest preseason ranking in school history
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: ILB T.J. Edwards
3k’s prospect for the Rams: ILB T.J. Edwards

Wisconsin is ranked fourth in the preseason AP poll for the second time in school history. They’ve never been ranked higher.

Things look perfect on offense where they’ve got a stellar O-line in front of RB Jonathan Taylor. On defense? Not so much. And they’ve got to face the Michigan Wolverines and the Penn State Nittany Lions on the road.

#5.) Ohio State Buckeyes

Biggest storyline heading into season: Uh...yeah.
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: DE Nick Bosa
3k’s prospect for the Rams: S Jordan Fuller

Urban Meyer is very good at recruiting. Urban Meyer is very good at coaching football teams during football games.

...

Urban Meyer is not good at running football programs.

Also, RB J.K. Dobbins is the truth.

It’s one of the most balanced teams in the country. And one of the most balanced OSU sides we’ve seen. But it feels like a build-up year for 2019.

#6.) Washington Huskies

Biggest storyline heading into season: The perfect storm...BUT AUBURN? WEEK 1?!
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: OT Trey Adams
3k’s prospect for the Rams: QB Jake Browning

Washington is the only Pac-12 team in the top 12. But with Auburn out the gate in Week 1, do they have to run the table to get into the playoffs?

They’ve got everything answered on offense save for the WR depth chart, but if one of the younger players steps up out wide this could be one of the country’s best offenses. Defensively though, there are questions at each level.

#7.) Oklahoma Sooners

Biggest storyline heading into season: Sean McVay’s year 2. Sorry, I meant Lincoln Riley.
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: OT Bobby Evans
3k’s prospect for the Rams: OLB Caleb Kelly

No Baker Mayfield...problem?

Oklahoma has plenty of talent and the best disparity at the top of the conference among the Power 5, but does the QB turnover ask too much?

Last year was their peak year for the personnel. So like OSU, this is a build-up year. If though they can get through the middle of the schedule, a late season trip to Morgantown could decide who makes the Big XII Championship.

#8.) Miami Hurricanes

Biggest storyline heading into season: Is the U back?
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: WR Ahmmon Richards
3k’s prospect for the Rams: EDGE Joe Jackson

Miami-LSU to start the season! Now we’re cookin with gas!

I’m not huge on the U this year, but they have a favorable schedule and cmon. Who didn’t like the Turnover Chain? And is QB Malik Rosier the most underrated Heisman candidate in the country?

Rams fans are going to want to see this defense. There’s talent at each level that would make sense in 2019 and beyond.

#9.) Auburn Tigers

Biggest storyline heading into season: Ridiculously difficult schedule
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: QB Jarrett Stidham
3k’s prospect for the Rams: LT Prince Tega Wanogho

#6 Washington on a neutral site. #25 LSU at home. At #18 Mississippi St. At #3 Georgia. At #1 Alabama.

Is there any way Auburn survives all of that to make the SEC Championship? And if they do, does that make this the hardest schedule in the country?

And while LSU has reigned supreme with the best names in college football, this year it might go to Auburn because of their defense where they boast a Dontavious, a Montavious, a Jaunta’Vius and a young dude named Big Kat Bryant. That’s skrong.

#10.) Penn State Nittany Lions

Biggest storyline heading into season: HC James Franklin coming to fruition
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: WR Juwan Johnson
3k’s prospect for the Rams: OL Connor McGovern

It ain’t easy in the B1G East. OSU, PSU, Michigan and Michigan St. And Franklin’s boys have to deal with Wisconsin late too. Good luck?

Plenty of talent. Plenty of upside. But the roster looks primed for next year save for QB Trace McSorley. Depending on who they retain on their offensive and defensive lines and what happens at QB next year, this could be a top 5 team in 2019. For now, it’s largely about Franklin in his fifth year as head coach having successfully dealt with one of the most perilous hirings in college football history and now coming to fruition and able to recruit on his own terms. If they can stick around the top this year, that should be fine. And should set them up for a major, major 2019.

#11.) Michigan State Spartans

Biggest storyline heading into season: The anti-PSU
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: ?
3k’s prospect for the Rams: ILB Joe Bachie

If Penn State is loaded with young talent and the inconsistency of turnover, MSU is Mr. Reliable. They return more of last year’s production than any other team in all of college football. And the defense looks primed for an improved year. So after a disastrous 2016, their bounceback 2017 has them in good position to put together a really good year for HC Mark Dantonio now in his 12th year.

Oh, and they have the most favorable schedule of all the B1G powerhouses.

#12.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Biggest storyline heading into season: O-line turnover
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: ILB Te’von Coney
3k’s prospect for the Rams: ILB Te’von Coney

G Quenton Nelson at #6. OT Mike McGlinchey at #9. Notre Dame sent TWO TOP TEN OFFENSIVE LINEMEN TO THE NFL IN THE SAME YEAR.

That’s insane.

Overall, ND’s in fine position to compete all year. The roster’s in good shape. HC Brian Kelly should have them ready to go. The issue is, as exemplified by their Week 1 game, the schedule. It’s rough, but as the nation’s banner independent that’s just how they roll.

One X-factor? I’ve been hearing a TON of positive background talk on Offensive Coordinator Chip Long. This is now his second season in South Bend.

#13.) Stanford Cardinal

Biggest storyline heading into season: Bryce Love, Bryce Love, Bryce Love
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: RB Bryce Love
3k’s prospect for the Rams: CB Alijah Holder

In 2017, Penn St. won every game except for two. They lost those two by a combined four points. This is your 2017 Penn St. comparison.

A perfect college running back. Up-and-coming talent/s at QB. Above average head coach. Questions on defense even though they could field a starting 11 without a single underclassman. This should be fun!

All eyes on Stanford-USC in Week 2, yeah?

And Rams fans should keep an eye on the tight ends. They’re two deep with NFL-level talent in TE Kaden Smith and TE Colby Parkinson. That could coincide with roster decisions at our depth chart.

#14.) Michigan Wolverines

Biggest storyline heading into season: Great team. Terribly difficult schedule.
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: DT Rashan Gary
3k’s prospect for the Rams: ? Devin Bush or ? Khaleke Hudson

Is this Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s best team since arriving in Ann Arbor? Probably. Should they be ranked higher? Probably not. There’s too much volatility.

A starting QB in Shea Patterson who is transferring from Ole Miss Rebels. Desperate to stem the tide against Michigans rivals in Ohio State (0-3) and Michigan State (1-2). No excuses personnel-wise...

And yet, the schedule is ridiculous. If I’m betting, this is a team that is going to churn out a ton of NFL talent and disappoint this year. But they’ve got all the components to be a team that is going to churn out a ton of NFL talent and, uh, not disappoint.

#15.) USC Trojans

Biggest storyline heading into season: Post-Sam Darnold malaise
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: S Marvell Tell III
3k’s prospect for the Rams: S Marvell Tell III

This is like one of those explosions that starts as an implosion sucking everything in before catapulting outward. How long did I like for the perfect GIF to show that without having to explain it horribly? More than 0 seconds! Did I find said GIF? Obviously not! The internet is my enemy!

They’ve got a crater-sized hole to fill at QB with huge questions on defense while dealing with a perilous schedule. The real question is if HC Clay Helton is up to the task. If so, USC could be set up to look very strong over the next two years. If not...this could get ugly. Quickly.

#16.) TCU Horned Frogs

Biggest storyline heading into season: Everything’s in place...except a QB
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: DE Ben Banogu
3k’s prospect for the Rams: S Innis Gaines

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

#17.) West Virginia Mountaineers

Biggest storyline heading into season: The team with the biggest gulf between top talents and insufficient skill
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: QB Will Grier
3k’s prospect for the Rams: S Dravon Askew-Henry

What a weird, weird, wonderful, weird team.

QB Will Grier could be the most exciting player in the country. HC Dana Holgorsen could be the most exciting head coach in the country. West Virginia could be the most exciting four-loss team in the country.

I don’t know what’s going on here, but I desperately want them to be undefeated heading into November with Texas, TCU, Oklahoma St. and Oklahoma left on the schedule because that is the cocaine maniac’s approach and it is absolutely the one Holgo would approve of.

#18.) Mississippi St. Bulldogs

Biggest storyline heading into season: Dan Mullen gone
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: EDGE Montez Sweat
3k’s prospect for the Rams: EDGE Montez Sweat

New Head Coach Joe Moorhead is known for explosive offenses. This is not set up to be an explosive offense...

FIT THAT ROUND PEG INTO THAT SQUARE HOLE!

Look, they have EDGE Montez Sweat who could be a first-round edge rusher. And they have QB Nick Fitzgerald who could be...who knows. A desperate team’s second-rounder?

Is a QB and a pass rusher enough to make waves in the SEC? Yes, but only to a level. And with a new head coach...this feels like a team with five losses that we’re back here a year from now trying to figure out if they’re about to capsize.

#19.) Florida State Seminoles

Biggest storyline heading into season: Jimbo Fisher PAID to leave
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: EDGE Brian Burns
3k’s prospect for the Rams: EDGE Brian Burns

This is FSU’s lowest preseason ranking since 2010. With new Head Coach Willie Taggart in town replacing Jimbo Fisher who is now heading up Texas A&M, they have tons to deal with.

Is Deondre Francois back 100% from his injury? Even if he is, will he get the nod over QB James Blackman? Can one of them propel the offense, which looks very promising, forward? Can that offense be propped up by the defense, which looks very promising, as it continues to grow? Is the roster, which looks very promising, promising enough to...hey. Wait. If this team, which looks very promising, is so good, why can’t they...STOP DOING THAT. THIS IS A TEAM, WHICH LOOKS VERY PROMISING, THAT COULD...DAMNIT!

I LIKE FLORIDA STATE THIS YEAR. THEY HAVE EVERYTHING IN PLACE. AND WITH A SCHEDULE, WHICH LOOKS VERY PROMISING, THAT FAVORS

...

#20.) Virginia Tech Hokies

Biggest storyline heading into season: The ACC’s TCU
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: DT Ricky Walker
3k’s prospect for the Rams: LB Mook Reynolds

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pt. II

#21.) UCF Knights

Biggest storyline heading into season: NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!!
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: ILB Pat Jasinski
3k’s prospect for the Rams: ILB Pat Jasinski

In 2015, UCF went 0-12. Last year, they went 13-0. We just can’t discount how good Head Coach Scott Frost was. Now that he’s at Nebraska, the challenge is ridiculously high for first-year HC Josh Heupel. Which isn’t to say they’ll completely fall off. Boise St. moved on from Christ Petersen and didn’t completely fall off.

Is that the best case scenario for the Knights here? To remain relevant from the Group of Five to compete every year for the AAC Championship and remain a top 25 mainstay?

#22.) Boise State Broncos

Biggest storyline heading into season: Broncos back?
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: QB Brett Rypien
3k’s prospect for the Rams: EDGE Curtis Weaver

If there was a year for the personnel to set Boise up to be the Boise of old, this is it. HC Bryan Harsin has been living in Chris Petersen’s shadow ever since he took over in 2014.

Could a road loss to Oklahoma State derail things? If they’re able to get a win in Stillwater and run the table, could they make a legit case for the playoffs?

#23.) Texas Longhorns

Biggest storyline heading into season: Year 2 under Tom Herman needs to show up
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: WR Collin Johnson
3k’s prospect for the Rams: S Brandon Jones

Few programs have demands as high as Texas that have delivered so far below them. Since 2010, UT has finished in the top 25...once. That got Mack Brown fired and it got Charlie Strong fired and it’s going to need more from Tom Herman than what he delivered last year.

And the problem isn’t talent.

The defense was ok. The offense wasn’t. And that’s at one of the country’s biggest programs. If it sounds like I’m personally aggrieved, I am. They’re taking great recruits and coaching them up to...mediocrity.

And they’ve been done a favor on the schedule this year. USC, TCU, OU, WVU...all at home. Well, OU is a neutral site, but the point suffices. They don’t travel to enemy territory against any of the ranked opponents they face this year.

Last year they lost to all four ranked opponents along with Texas Tech and Maryland. The bar is LOW for Herman this year. He has to clear it.

#24.) Oregon Ducks

Biggest storyline heading into season: Third head coach in three years
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: QB Justin Herbert
3k’s prospect for the Rams: LB Troy Dye

If you inserted some coaching consistency and the recruiting affect it could have had over the last three years, this has the makeup of a top-10 team especially with their schedule.

Are they the anti-Texas? They’ve got every excuse to struggle against a weak schedule. Could they overperform next year with a lesser roster? How would that even go down in Eugene?

I have 0 answers, but I’m really interested in watching them figure things out especially once they get to Stanford in late September.

That’s two italicized especially’s, so you can tell how sincerely I am looking forward to the Ducks.

#25.) LSU Tigers

Biggest storyline heading into season: The most obvious letdown of any team in the Top 25
Best 2019 NFL Draft prospect: LB Devin White
3k’s prospect for the Rams: LB Devin White

From 2001-16, LSU was ranked in the top 10 at some point in every season. In those 16 seasons, they finished top ten in just seven of them. Even worse since 2012, they’ve hit the top 10 five times and finished top 10...zero times.

This is a program with a problem and the problem isn’t talent.

They’re feeding us at the NFL level talent every year. Wideouts. Running backs. Offensive linemen. Defensive linemen. Defensive backs. TONS of talent.

But the coaching and quarterback play has been...well, atrocious. In a fun way. Les Miles! Ed Orgeron! Look at LSU flounder!

What are the chances this team ends up in the top 25? Is 25% the obvious answer?

The schedule is relatively impossible. Miami on a neutral site, Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama at home, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M on the road.


And that’s just the AP top 25! I’ll have something up over the weekend or next week on the teams that didn’t make the top 25, but man, that’s a lot to sort through!

What are you looking forward to this year from the college game? What prospects interest you the most overall? Who seems like a fit for the Rams this far out?

WELCOME TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON!!!